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Volume 21 No. 1
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Reinsdorf salutes power of sports to bring joy

Jerry Reinsdorf, owner of the Chicago Bulls and White Sox, accepted the SBJ/SBD Lifetime Achievement Award at the Sports Business Awards ceremony, after an introduction by ESPN’s George Bodenheimer. Here is the full transcript of his remarks:

My funeral can’t be any better than this. When I found out I was getting this award, the thought came to me that I had to come up with something really good to express my appreciation, my humbleness, and how delighted I was. But I couldn’t think of anything to say. Until I came across some of the thoughts of the greatest of American philosophers, Yogi Berra. Yogi, upon receiving an award, said he wanted to thank all the people who made this award necessary.

Lifetime Achievement Award winner Jerry Reinsdorf: “I just like to have ideas, and get other people to do the work.”
At my advanced age, I guess I must be reasonably popular, but it wasn’t always that way. Back in the early ’90s — ’94, ’95 — a number of my good friends in the media decided I was responsible for the baseball strike. They demonized me. I was so unpopular, I drove up to a Motel 6 and they turned the light off. But George Burns said you live long enough, you can make a comeback.

I’ve always worked hard, and I’ve tried to be totally honest. But honestly, luck and the work of others have played a much larger part in my success than my own efforts. If I tried to list all the people to whom I’m indebted, I would bore you to tears, so I won’t do that. But in addition to Bud Selig and Bowie Kuhn, who got me into baseball, there are four people who I do need to mention. One is my late friend Sanford Takiff, who befriended me when I first arrived in Chicago and made my wife and I members of the family. Then there is Allan Muchin, who I met in 1961 when we were young lawyers in the IRS. Those were the days when people respected the IRS. He’s been a partner of mine in everything I’ve ever done. Bob Judelson has been my partner since 1970 and he keeps me humble by constantly reminding me of my many shortcomings. And then there is Howard Pizer, who’s been my partner since 1972. Though I’m the one who gets all the credit, he enables me to be a big-picture guy while he does all the work. And he keeps me out of trouble. If anything happened to Howard, I would retire the day after. And he’s the one guy to tell me I’m wrong, and usually he’s right.

The chief executive officer in my business really has the easiest job, because he really doesn’t do anything himself. His job is really three things: long-range planning, public relations and then identifying the jobs that have to be filled, putting the right people in those jobs, and putting people in those jobs who can do it better than he or she can do them themselves. I’ve been blessed to have the greatest people working with me. It’s been a wonderful thing, and why I’ve been successful. Believe me, I’m not a hard worker. I just like to have ideas, and get other people to do the work.

I’ve been blessed with a great family. My parents worked and sacrificed so I could get the education they never had. And they instilled values in me that have been with me my whole life. I hope I’ve passed those values on to my children and grandchildren. I have a wife who permitted me to chase my dreams. My children and their spouses are wonderful and have given me grandchildren who bring me joy every day. My daughter-in-law Nancy is so good that if she ever left my son, Michael, I’d go with her.

Those of us in team sports are very lucky, very, very lucky. Not only because we don’t have real jobs, but because you’re able to bring joy to so many people and we can make the world a better place. The six Bulls championships were celebrated by hundreds of thousands of people, rallies in Grant Park. It brought such joy, and for people in their own minds, changed their lives. The Bulls of Jordan and Pippen weren’t America’s team, it was really the world’s team. It used to be that if you traveled around and said you were from Chicago, somebody would say, “Al Capone, rat-tat-tat-tat.” But after Jordan, if you were traveling someplace and said you were from Chicago, everybody always says, “Michael Jordan. Michael Jordan.” The Bulls changed the view of people all over the world. But for all the championships the Bulls have won, my favorite team was the one that we just saw this year, the one that just lost in the playoffs. They proved that heart and grit and determination can win against vastly superior talent. And I think fans are as proud of that team as they are the championship teams.

Making a community happy, though, the topper of them all is the 2005 World Series team. You could have gone to any cemetery in the Chicago area the next day and the graves everywhere were decorated with White Sox paraphernalia, including that of the late Richard J. Daley. On the parade route, we had an estimated 2 million people. And there wasn’t a single arrest. There were people of all walks of life out on the parade route. The president of the Chicago Federal Reserve was wearing a White Sox jersey. There was a young boy holding a sign, “I’ve been waiting six years for this.” But in reality, it was really 88 years and there was hardly a soul who was still alive and was present for the prior championship. And then Paulie [Konerko] gave me the ball, and you saw that was a tremendously emotional moment. But the joy the teams bring to their fans really brings home the fact that we who own teams are not the real owners. We are just custodians. The real owners are the fans. The teams are theirs and we have the privilege of running them.

While winning is wonderful, you can’t do it very often. And what I’m really most proud of from being in sports are the things that sports teams do for their communities. Bud Selig often says that baseball is a social institution and has great responsibilities. He constantly exhorts us to take that responsibility seriously. David Stern has made the NBA a world-class doer of good things. Both of my clubs have given millions of dollars to worthy causes and have numerous programs of which I am extremely proud. The White Sox have an inner-city baseball program called ACE, Amateur City Elite. The players in this program, more than 60 of them, have received college scholarships to go play baseball. They’re growing baseball players, but more importantly, they’re growing kids who go to college and get an education. The White Sox have a volunteer corps with more than 6,000 members. What we have here are 6,000 people who would like to do some good. But they don’t know what they can do by themselves. And by aggregating them into a corps, they can work together. We have more than 30 events a year and we do such things like refurbishing schools and rebuilding parks. And my grandchildren have been out cleaning up parks, planting, painting a school. I was painting at a school. They had to go over what I did because it wasn’t that good. The Bulls built the James Jordan Boys & Girls Club. The players of both teams are constantly at hospitals and schools. Thousands of items are donated for charity auctions. Robin Ventura, our current manager, when he was a player, he went to what was then called Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago. He befriended a young boy who was given months to live. This boy was terminal. Robin kept in touch with him. He kept in touch with him. And then a funny thing happened. The kid never died. And today, he’s in his 30s. And Robin and this boy went back to Children’s recently to tell their story to all these poor kids who are fighting for their lives. And what an inspiration it was for the kids.

Many players of ours have their own foundations and causes they support. Last year, Bulls players made nearly 250 charitable appearances. Former players made about 120 appearances. Last year, 13,000 people were part of Bulls community events. The White Sox have similar statistics. We give away thousands of tickets every year to inner-city kids and organizations like the Make-A-Wish Foundation. All active members of the U.S. military are admitted free to White Sox games and all policemen and firemen get two free tickets every year. A serviceman or woman is honored every night and this a heart-rending thing. But every night, some serviceman is honored and every night, there’s a standing ovation from the fans.

While I’m proud of everything the Bulls and White Sox do in the community, we’re not unique. Through the leadership of Commissioners Stern and Selig, virtually all teams in both leagues have an incredible effect on their communities. We learned today that Kevin Durant gave a million dollars to the victims of the Oklahoma tornadoes. So many players from so many teams make contributions to society. And that’s why I’m proud to be in sports, for the good that is done. While we may argue with our players unions every few years in collective bargaining, both unions are tremendously supportive of what the players do, and without their support we could not do what we do.

When I was growing up in Brooklyn, there were only two things I wanted in life. I wanted a car. My father almost never had a car, and when he did, it was almost always 15 years old. And I wanted the Dodgers to win the World Series. And every year, we lost to the Yankees until 1955 when we finally won the World Series. And to me at that point, in my 19-year-old life, that was the best thing that ever happened. But I never imagined that I would own teams. And that I would meet people like Tony La Russa, Michael Jordan, Bo Jackson, Frank Thomas, Phil Jackson, Scottie Pippen, Charley Lau, a true genius who belongs in the Hall of Fame. I certainly never imagined I would meet those people. And I certainly never imagined that instead of asking them for their autographs, I would give them my autograph on their checks.

This award tonight indicates that my life is in the fourth quarter or perhaps the eighth or ninth inning. But I am hoping for triple overtime or a lot of extra innings. Thank you very much.